- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 18, 2004

“China has a shortage of everything but people,” remarks a blunt coal-mine boss, a line that sets the tone and sums up the situation for our central characters in Blind Shaft, a taut, verite-style Chinese crime drama that’s new this week from Kino Video ($29.95). It’s our …

DVD pick of the week

“Blind Shaft” focuses on Tang (Shuangbao Wang) and Song (Yi Xiang Li), two migratory miners who work a cruel, lethal scam: They pretend to be relatives of fellow coal miners whom they ruthlessly murder via mineshaft “accidents” before collecting the insurance.

Conflict gradually arises between the two when Song takes a genuinely avuncular interest in their latest proposed mark, sweetly naive teenage farm boy Feng (Baoqiang Wang), who tags along with the killers to their latest dig gig. While Tang pushes for cold-blooded closure, Song finds excuses to keep the unsuspecting lad alive.

Rich in dark irony, veteran documentarian Yang Li’s first fiction feature film, drawn from Liu Qingbang’s novel, boasts a frank, earthy aura reminiscent of American auteur Sam Fuller’s best work.

Director Yang also presents a particularly grim, grubby vision of contemporary China, where even once-beloved socialist hymns now bear cynical, bawdy new lyrics. (In short, this is not your chairman’s China.)

At the same time, “Blind Shaft” doubles as a gruffly touching coming-of-age story, as young Feng accumulates valuable life lessons, even if learned under the shadow of imminent violence.

Kino’s disc is bald on extras, save for production notes, the filmmaker’s biography, trailers and a stills gallery, but this lean, compelling, utterly accessible modern noir yields rewards enough in its own right.

Collectors’ corner

Digging into the vaults, Buena Vista Home Entertainment reissues the 2001 comedy The Princess Diaries ($29.95), starring Julie Andrews and Anne Hathaway, in a deluxe two-disc collectors’ set offering a wealth of bonus features.

Related company Disney DVD sets its sights on outer space with the 1979 sci-fi odyssey The Black Hole ($19.99), with Maximilian Schell, Anthony Perkins and Robert Forster.

Elsewhere, Anthony Quinn dances his way into the hearts of millions in Zorba the Greek ($14.98). 20th Century Fox’s fresh Studio Classics edition comes complete with audio commentary by director Michael Cacoyannis, an Anthony Quinn “Biography” episode, “Movietone News” footage and more.

The ‘A’ list

Courtesy of Warner Home Video, the Olsen twins’ romp New York Minute hastens into video stores this week on a disc replete with featurettes, bloopers, two alternate endings and other audiovisual accessories. The same label skews to an older audience with the serial-killer policier Taking Lives, with Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke and a veritable file cabinet full of extras. The discs are priced at $27.95 each.

Lions Gate Home Entertainment delivers the chills with the evil-clone-child exercise Godsend ($26.98), starring Greg Kinnear, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos and Robert De Niro. Universal looks to lighten the tone with Connie and Carla ($29.98), written by and headlining Nia Vardalos of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” supported by Toni Collette.

Marty’s art house

Warner Home Video salutes Martin Scorsese with special editions of five of the Italian-American auteur’s films, leading with a double-disc Goodfellas gala. That fact-based 1990 gangster classic muscles in with two audio commentary tracks (including one with ex-mobster Henry Hill and former FBI agent Edward McDonald), three documentaries and the original trailer.

Mr. Scorsese also supplies commentaries for his surreal 1985 comedy After Hours, his 1974 drama Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, his 1973 break-out film Mean Streets and his rarely seen feature-film directorial debut, Who’s That Knocking at My Door?.

The discs, tagged at $19.97 each ($59.92 for the complete set), also include featurettes and other extras.


Paramount Television emphasizes laughs with two new three-disc collections ($39.98 each): Happy Days: The Complete First Season and the Al Franken cable show Lateline: The Complete Series.

Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment debuts the six-episode, two-disc twentysomething show Significant Others: The Series ($24.95).

Arnold vs. Predator

Keyed to the current monster sequel “Alien vs. Predator,” Predator: Collector’s Edition (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, $26.98, two-DVD) comes locked and loaded with the original 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger showcase, audio commentary by director John McTiernan and more than five hours of bonus material, including featurettes and outtakes.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: The first season of Twin Peaks was released quite some time ago. The remaining episodes have been available for quite some time on VHS; do you have any idea when they will be released on DVD?

Armando, Leesburg.

Thus far, there has been no official announcement by Artisan Entertainment/Lions Gate on the episodes’ digital future.

Send your video comments and queries to Phantom of the Movies, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or e-mail us at: [email protected] Check out our Web site, www.videoscopemag.com.

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